FOR: Quicksand
CHALLENGE: To research and profile ethnic taste palettes across India to identify and brand a new sparkling drinks category for one of the world's largest beverage companies

On joining Quicksand in 2015, I had been exploring India for nearly two months, but I had barely begun to scratch the surface of this incredibly diverse country. Arriving at our studio in New Delhi for my first day, I was given an ideal first challenge which allowed me to deepen my relationship with the country using the tools of design research.

A leading global sparkling drinks manufacturer was in the process of running an internal competition to develop new brand concepts and flavour profiles to add to its portfolio. From market research, the organisation had determined that there was enough room in the Indian market for a new sparkling drink category which would appeal to diverse regional taste palettes.

One of the teams from within the organisation in question decided to engage Quicksand as design research experts to help in the process of a) researching and identifying clear opportunities within the market, and b) the rapid development of brand concepts to feed into a final presentation.

If successful, the drink and brand would then quickly move into production and be released to an identified target market.

Quicksand's preferred approach on projects - regardless of theme - was to use small, agile cross-disciplinary teams. Modeled on progressive and influential organisations like Ideo, each team member would be involved at every phase of the project.

For this particular challenge, we split into very small teams of two (one to interview, and the other to document) for the research phase in order to cover as much ground as possible.

In total, three teams of two covered a cross-section of cities of varying size. These teams included one studio partner acting in an oversight capacity, and then two senior associates and three associates.

The discipline specialisms represented between us included: business/branding strategy, design research, interaction design and visual design.

My core responsibility was in the area of interaction design, however Quicksand's policy was that each team member (representing different areas of specialism) participated at every phase of each project.

This allowed the whole team to achieve full engagement with the end-user, and to bring their unique perspectives to bear in the ideation phase.
  • ACCURATE SAMPLING OF PAN-INDIAN TASTES // our biggest challenge was how to do justice to India's vast and varied taste palettes with only a small, agile team and a limited time frame.
  • RAPID SYNTHESIS OF INSIGHTS // once we had returned from our research, we were then faced with the challenge of organiation our observations and data so that we could extract the key insights to present to the client.
  • BRAND DEVELOPMENT AND TESTING // with the pressure on to deliver a range of branding options to match our insights, we were required to conceive and develop a number of options which appealed to the right target audience.
  • LO-FIDELITY CONCEPT DEVELOPMENT // once we had tested and presented the brand options, our visual design team was then charged with the task of producing a final branding package.

As I considered the daunting scale of the research we had to undertake into India's vast regional food and drink culture, the advantage of working in an ethnographic research orientated design studio of passionate Indian foodies became apparent!

Armed with over twelve years of field experience across the global south in sectors as diverse as public sanitation in rural India and commercial customer experience refinement, my colleagues were very engaged with the diversity and innovation within their country.

Many on the team spoke regional languages beyond Hindi, meaning we were able to keep our budget lean by avoiding hiring local translators. We split the team up into Hindi speaking (covering all of India, but particularly the north and west), Bengali speaking (covering the north and east) and Tamil speaking (covering the south).

We spoke with experts (chefs and drinks specialists) from Quicksand's extended network to reinforce our knowledge of particularly strong food cultures. From this approximate mapping, we chose two locations per team - one higher tier city, and a lower tier city - from each accessible region of the country.


My team was given two locations Madurai (Tamil Nadu), a temple city on an ancient trade junction, and Kochi (Kerala), an ancient fishing port similarly renowned for its food heritage. Another group went to Calcutta (Bengal), another went to Varanasi (Utter Pradesh) and Ludhiana (Punjab).

We used a number of ethnographic research activities ranging from: in-depth interviews, guerilla interviews, auto-ethnography, artifact collection and multimedia documentation.

We spent a week in the field observing and documenting the cultural traditions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, focusing on various idiosyncratic food and drink customs. We sought out infamous local establishments, successful chains, beloved street food shacks, built on the knowledge of local culinary experts and spoke to a large cross-section of local people.


When all three teams returned back to our Delhi studio the following week, we gave ourselves a week to synthesize all of our respective data together. From our collective knowledge we mapped all the various possible ingredients and styles - essentially creating a national taxonomy of flavour components and tastes.

From this taxonomy and our insights, we identified the most likely options for a successful pan-Indian flavour. We experimented with flavour combinations by prototyping various new drinks and tested them on colleagues and experts.

Eventually, we agreed on a deck of ten possible flavour profiles which encapsulated our insights and equivalent opportunities. We presented our findings in to the client, who then presented our findings to the internal competition judges for voting.


We received a very positive response from our synthesized research, and many of our identified taste components had already been prototyped by the client's innovation lab. With a winning opportunity and taste profile identified, we began graphic design work on some branding options which spoke to the desired demographic.
Over the course of this rapid project my team successfully managed to identify ten possible flavour profiles, which we believed were not sufficiently represented at market. All of them represented strong opportunities for an entirely new sparkling drink category.

Using a people-centred design process, anchored in an ethnographic study of food and drink traditions, we were also able to arrive at a new brand concept which played into young Indian emerging hybrid tastes.

Our field research data was successfully used to underpin the internal presentation for the competition, and our final presentation of branding assets went on to win the internal competition.

Our new sparkling drink category is currently in the final phases of production and is currently scheduled to be released into the Indian market this coming year.
Made on